|The Curse Of Witness Protection|
GENRE: Crime Drama.
STATUS: In post-production.
LOGLINE: A private investigator discovers that all the other actors of a movie trailer he was in 20 years ago have met with mysterious deaths in the last three months and he might be next.
The Official Movie Trailer For The Curse Of Witness Protection – Edited By Christine Tsuzaki
The Back Story
Origins for The Curse Of Witness Protection date back to 1998. Honolulu lawyer and part-time actor, Steve Cedillos (see inset photo circa the early 1990’s), having made the move to LA to pursue acting while also managing his law practice, was interested in producing another movie. He had already co-produced and co-starred in a production filmed in Los Angeles, Vendetta, an action picture about two cops pursuing a serial killer seemingly bent on murdering and mutilating men, which suggested the killer was seeking vengeance on men who had a history of inflicting sexual abuse. In seeking another project, Cedillos sought out fellow actor Eric Nemoto, the leader of the still in its infancy TAG – The Actors’ Group for possible options. Nemoto suggested filmmaker Jon Brekke, whose company’s (Brekke TV) production site on Keawe Street in Honolulu, Hawaii – Yellow Brick Studio – was where Nemoto’s fledgling gang of passionate actors held acting classes. Cedillos approved of Brekke and Jon then wrote a screenplay entitled Witness Protection which he felt could be filmed within the budget Cedillos would supply and recommended that the movie could be shot within a two week period at the home of his older brother Chris in Woodland Hills, California.
The Original Script & Production
Jon’s Witness Protection was an original script he wrote that was a comedy drama about six cops (five men and a woman) guarding a female witness who’s set to testify against the mob at the big trial. Because of this scenario, this gang of differing personalities have to live together for weeks and therefore must put up with each other’s idiosyncracies. It was intended that a snippet of scenes from this script would be filmed and used as a kind of visual pitch to prospective investors to then obtain the necessary funding in order to film the entire movie. Back in 1998, this was all that independent filmmakers could hope to do because this was the era of film and digital media was not even a concept. Back in these days film was incredibly expensive and a full feature would likely require around $300,000 just for the cost of film alone (see The Changing Movie Landscape, “The Boon For The Independent Filmmaker,” where a description of why film was so expensive is explained through simple mathematical calculations). Hence, even on the reasonable budget put forth by Cedillos, in order to film the sample of scenes selected by Brekke, it was made clear to all of the actors that everyone would have only “one take” to get their scenes done. Amazingly, this was in fact achieved. As for the cast, in addition to Cedillos, actors Audrey Stanzler, Andy Trask, Brian Fowler, Brad Powell, and Eric Nemoto, all also from Hawaii, would play his fellow cops, and Vonnie Rhee, at the time having relocated to LA, would play the witness. Like in the story of Curse (treatment to follow), actor Trask was recruited by Brekke after another actor from LA dropped out just before shooting. The production shoot took place in April, 1998, and to be sure everyone (all seven actors and the crew which included DP Gerry Marzocco, and first cameraman Colin Crane, both also from LA) had the time of their lives (an inset photo shows a montage of BTS shots) and after a very hectic 10-day shoot the following video would later be edited and produced in 1999:
The Original Witness Protection Short Film
The Movie Within A Movie
Of course, the dreams of obtaining an investor based on the video did not materialize. Fast forward to the spring of 2015 and Eric is helping Jon clean out his storage locker at the Kailua Mini Storage in Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii (see inset photo). Of the many items that need to be cleared out, at the bottom of a box that contained old tapes and videocassettes of Jon’s past work is a Betacam SP tape labeled “Witness Protection.” Eric took it out and asked Jon if this was what it seemed to be and after getting a confirmation from him, Eric commented how sad it was that all of their work ultimately ended up forgotten and buried in the bowels of a storage locker. With Jon’s permission, Eric took the tape to Daniel Bernardoni (DBBC Video Post-Production), who specializes in post-production services, to have the tape transferred into a digital format and see if the actual video from the 1998 shoot was intact. It was. Upon seeing the old footage the seeds for “Curse” were being planted. Eric started to envision writing a script that would somehow utilize the footage and bring it to the screen now that making movies in the era of digital was entirely possible. A few months later, an original conceptual script, “Random,” was completed by Eric.
The script was the precursor – so to speak – to “Curse,” pretty much with the same storyline but only without as many characters. Not really knowing if Cedillos was still practicing law in Hawaii, Nemoto tracked him down and found that he still was and shared the script with him. Thinking he was being pitched as a producer for this latest script, Cedillos originally didn’t show any interest. Having done his share of backing projects (Vendetta, Witness Protection) that either didn’t return much or anything at all, he was done funding other filmmaker’s ideas. Nemoto assured him it wasn’t a pitch to him to financially back but only the sharing of a creative idea that hopefully could be produced by someone so as to finally make use of the footage all of them had once poured their hearts and souls into. Nemoto told Cedillos that he was being sent the script because in this concept, someone in the original video had to play Nick Navarro, the central private investigator who is sent the YouTube link, and so he, Cedillos, was the natural choice.
While filming “Random” at the time was not a consideration, their renewed contact with each other brought them together creatively again. On Eric’s invitation, Steve subsequently played the role of the ill-fated Dirk, final victim of serial killer Dann Seki (as Horace Shigematsu) in So Close Shig. Steve then contracted YBS to film a marketing video (Larry Cortez, editor) for him (see inset photo of a screen shot of the video, which can be seen at his website: The Law Office Of Steve Cedillos). Then later, Eric cast him as the down-on-his-luck Garrett, who ultimately helps Yuka Ooshima (as played by Lisa Glenn) to bring down villain John Bridges (as portrayed by Tim Jeffryes) in Closing Costs.
Then, it was on the heels of wrapping the aforementioned Closing Costs, that Eric and YBS DP and editor Larry Cortez decided to pursue yet another movie during a window of time after the initial movie timeline cut of Closing was created. With respect to their desire, Eric pondered whether filming “Random” could be done in a short period if rewritten to be a one room location movie like The Landline Detective? Eric believed it was possible and contacted Steve to survey his interest, and probably bolstered by his experience in the previous films, Steve confirmed that he was in. Knowing that this particular project would be a labor of love, Eric advised Steve that the idea was to rewrite Random so that it could be done on a very micro budget (that covered the basic necessities, with everybody doing it for the love of getting another movie done) and hopefully shot in a single location. Steve acknowledged this and on Eric’s request said he would try to see if his para-legal’s office could be the site for shooting a one room movie. Eric then set about rewriting the script and then also set about seeing if any of the past actors of Closing would be willing to participate and perhaps even contribute to the movie’s budget. One actor, Patrick Jeppeson (pictured inset) came forward and contributed the micro-budget amount – basic camera supplies and craft allowance – necessary to film, and therefore became this movie’s executive producer. Actor Ron Riles subsequently contributed a share and would become the movie’s associate producer.
But as is often the case, the “journey” of writing does not always manifest itself into what one believes to be the intended story. Eric found it difficult to transform this adventure murder mystery into the confines of a single location and in fact “added” characters (and therefore locations) that he felt were necessary to successfully move the story along. It dawned on him that encasing a video that apparently was not appreciated over time into a movie where the production “didn’t go for it” did not seem to make sense. Basically, he reasoned that either the movie should be filmed the way it should be filmed or not at all. When Steve reported that the office of his para-legal could not be used for the shoot (which is what was envisioned as the script was initially being written as a one location movie), it seemed that fate was somehow swaying the production for the “go for it” plan. Hence, Curse would be filmed at many locations.
Eric Nemoto talks with Lance Motogawa on his Motogawa Music Entertainment Show (AM 650) on June 25, 2018, about the local Hawaii acting talent and preparing to make YBS’ next feature film, The Curse Of Witness Protection. (Note: Video image is inverted)
The result of the rewrite was The Curse Of Witness Protection, which was essentially “Random” only with some added characters and scenes and expanded dialogue. Armed with the knowledge that Steve was in and a modicum of a budget provided, Eric set out to recruit his cast. Steve was set to play the central character of Nick Navarro, Bronsy Tansley would play Stephanie Forrester, Patrick Jeppeson would play Martin Mills, Landon Vaoifi would play Warren Kotter, Tim Jeffryes would play Dave Pressier, Ron Riles would play Hoyt Howard, Ana Ravedutti would play Anita Devereaux, Michael Carter would play Larry Thomasen, Mark Bush would play Cyril Serriano, Rebecca McCarthy would play Teresa Garner Smith, and Lisa Glenn would play Emily Mills. Martine Aceves-Foster, Jinsong Chu Riles, and Alan Picard would portray forensics specialists. Aceves-Foster and Chu Riles also provided the voices for the phone message recording at the Worber residence (Aceves-Foster) and the mother of Vicki Rhee (Chu Riles). Picard also would play LA detective Connor Mitchell.* Mark Bush also doubled as the pimp who picks up Emily Mills. John Huser voiced over Tom Stucky, the director of the original video, and Steven Dillard (who would later decide to be a Co-Executive Producer, see Post-Production) played the role of the Worber Estate attorney, Stanley Porteus.* Based on everyone’s schedules the movie would be shot primarily during the first two weeks of July, 2018. The filming locations would include the office of Jacob Delaplane located at 707 Richards Street, PH8, Honolulu, HI 96813 (for Nick’s office), a house that was provided through Eric’s son, Cory Nemoto, a real estate investor, located at 612 Poipu Drive, Honolulu, HI 96825 (for Nick’s house), the house of Martine Aceves-Foster located at 1245 Ulunahele Street, Kailua, HI 96734 (for Martin’s house), various spots in and around Ala Moana Shopping Center (its parking lots and nearby streets), Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, Lunalilo Freeway, and the streets in the Hawaii Kai section of Honolulu, where the bevy of car traveling and exterior on-the-road scenes were to be shot. *Note: The filming of Steven (Porteus) and Alan (Mitchell) were done at a much later date (see Post-Production).
The Curse Of Witness Protection – Behind The Scenes Shots Courtesy Of Lisa Glenn & Ana Ravedutti
Filming actually began on Saturday, June 30th, 2018 and was projected to wrap by Friday, July 13th, incorporating 12 days of shooting within this 14-day span. But on the initial shoot day, the production got immediately behind when the office at 707 Richards Street happened to be blistered with a brighter than usual sun peering through a large picture glass window, that, coupled with the fact that the building AC kicked off at 2 pm, resulted in almost intolerable conditions that prevented the production to get all of the day’s planned scenes in. When DP Larry Cortez could not go the following day (Sunday, July 1st) due to a case of dehydration (a situation that Eric honestly welcomed at the time given he was thoroughly beat as well), the production fell even further behind and the prospects for getting this filmed on schedule seemed dim. But after this problematic start the production got back on course and coupled with a “doubling up” of scenes on the following Saturday (July 7th), which resulted in a marathon shoot session of over 20 hours, and adding the scenes that had been scheduled for the canceled Sunday shoot into a reshuffling of the remaining shoot days of the following week, amazingly, then culminated in filming wrapping on schedule on July 13th, 2018 as anticipated. In the end the production covered an exhaustive (and shorter than originally planned) 11 days. In retrospect, Curse was really an impossible shoot given the ambitious storyline that incorporated a multitude of locations, literally no crew (actors, particularly Rebecca Lea McCarthy and Mark Bush, who both helped on sound, along with Patrick Jeppeson and Ron Riles, all pitched in which made all the difference in the world), and an incredibly small window of time to accomplish it (Cedillos, for one, could not shoot beyond the 13th of July, which then was shortened to the 11th after the original schedule had been posted). But through determination and frankly, sheer will, the cast and crew put their collective noses to the grindstone to slog through it and get it done (incredibly) on time, which kept Yellow Brick Studio’s record of its LegacyVision Films movie productions always being wrapped on budget and on schedule – intact.
Work & Fun: Director Eric Nemoto Rehearses A Scene With Some Of The Actors Of “Curse”
We open with a scene from a video filmed in the late 1990’s of six cops having to watch a star witness within the confines of a house. The camera pulls back and pans to an envelope addressed to a Nick Navarro. We cut to an office in Honolulu, Hawaii, where we then meet Nick, who is a private investigator who has returned from a vacation in LA to visit his sister and her kids, and talks with his executive assistant, Stephanie Forrester. Stephanie shows him the office mail he received while he was away and also tells him that his absence was felt by a very special client, Teresa Garner Smith. Nick winces. Prior to leaving, Nick had helped Teresa to prove that her husband had been cheating on her, thus setting her up for a very promising divorce. No sooner than Nick has time to cringe over the idea, Teresa comes into the office. Helped by a surprise cell phone call from Stephanie to get him away from her clutches, Nick evades Teresa’s pressing invitation to lunch by lying about having to meet another client and then leaving for a trip to Nebraska (a state that comes to mind because it is where Stephanie’s family is from). With Nick gone, Teresa leaves, not knowing that Nick is actually hiding in the emergency exit stairwell. Nick returns to the office when Stephanie gives him the all clear and they laugh off their antics. But their levity is transformed to panic when Stephanie realizes that Teresa didn’t get her parking ticket validated. The door opens and Stephanie keeps Teresa at the door by stamping her ticket right there, which prevents Teresa from seeing Nick who has pushed himself back against the wall. After Teresa leaves the two of them share another hearty laugh.
Back at his desk, one particular envelope that Nick opens seems curiously to contain nothing. Stephanie takes the envelope and empties it out and a slip of paper that has a printed URL on it falls out. They discover it is a YouTube link that leads to a video we have previously seen.
Nick checks out the link and tells Stephanie that it is a kind of short film slash movie trailer he acted in 20 years ago and as they watch we see another segment from it. Afterwards, Nick explains that long ago he was very much into acting and he and a group of fellow actors filmed the video with the hope that it could be used to pitch investors in hopes of getting the money to do the entire movie. It was the era of film, which was extremely expensive, so almost the entire production budget was used to buy the film, to the extent that every scene filmed had to be shot in one take. As Nick wonders who could’ve sent him the link he notices a Florida postmark. Stephanie asks Nick who does he know in Florida and Nick responds Dave Pressier, who was once part of the shoot but who left before shooting on account of another gig he got. But Nick tells Stephanie that he really felt the real reason for Dave’s departure was because as a “method” actor, he couldn’t handle the pressure of doing his scenes in one take and so he bailed and another actor had to replace him.
In a hotel room we see another segment of the video play on a laptop. To the side there are empty liquor bottles as a man brushes his teeth in the background. Back at Nick’s office Warren Kotter, a young twenty something waits to have a job interview with Nick who is on the phone to Dave Pressier. Their conversation reveals that they go back to their younger days as actors in Southern California and Dave tells Nick he knows nothing about the YouTube link that leads to the video and reminds Nick that he was the one who “wasn’t” in the video. After the call Nick looks up the phone number for Sam Worber, one of the actors in the video, and upon getting a voice recording, leaves a message for Sam, explaining that he received the YouTube link and wonders if Sam knows anything about it. He then searches for his old “Witness Protection” file and is told by Stephanie that it was sent to the company storage locker by movers on Stephanie’s request based on Nick’s orders. Meeting Warren, Nick tells him to go and look for the file at the storage locker but is told that Warren doesn’t have a car. Nick resigns himself to having to go and check on his locker himself, but Stephanie says he can’t because he’s expecting a Mr. Mills so she tells Warren he can take her car instead.
Nick later gets a call from who he thinks is Sam but finds it is Stanley Porteus, attorney for the Worber Estate. Stanley gives him the unnerving news that Sam and his wife recently died in a traffic accident, and that all indications show that their car’s tires were blown out by a gun, which has opened up a homicide investigation. Back in the hotel room we see another segment of the video as a person walks by in the background. Later, Nick meets with Waikiki budget hotel manager Martin Mills who suspects his wife, Emily, is cheating on him. Based on what Martin describes Nick suspects it too and steps away from their meeting to take a call from Warren who says the locker is filled with junk. Nick tells him to just find it and gets back to Martin who agrees to hire him. Back at the hotel we get another view of the video as the person who occupies the room slips out the front door. Back at the office Nick gets another call from Warren who tells him he finally found the file! Nick responds that this is great but that he’d better get back to the office pronto as Stephanie doesn’t expect to stay late and expects to beat the traffic home. We then see another segment of the video and after it concludes we see that Stephanie and Nick had been watching it on Stephanie’s computer monitor. She tells Nick that the video is actually quite good but that she doesn’t get it. Nick comments that neither did anyone else. He mentions that it was a kind of artsy, slice-of-life piece, and that if the movie had ever got funded would have featured the full storyline which would have then shown a complete movie. Nick further comments that one of the actors in the video they just watched was Sam Worber, now deceased along with his wife Madge. Stephanie comments on how horrible the news is as Warren enters. She gives him heat over being late since she and Nick had plans for the night. Warren hears this and thinks that his bosses are a couple but is confused when Nick tells him if he wants to come along.
Rough Cut Scene 1: Landon Vaoifi (as Warren) and Steve Cedillos (as Nick) stake out the home of a woman suspected of adultery.
At Martin’s house he questions Emily as she gets ready as to why she has to meet another agent when she’s already got one. She tells him one can never have too many options and that she’s going to do a little shopping at Ala Moana first. She then walks away after she’s all dolled up, leaving Martin suspicious and insecure. Outside the house, we find that the “night out” is really a stake out at Martin’s house and as Warren munches on a burger he asks about Nick and his relationship with Stephanie since she always seems to be looking out for him. As he watches the house Nick idly says how he and Stephanie have avoided seeking a personal relationship because they’ve both had marriages that failed largely because of work. Nick catches himself confiding personal information to a kid who he just met that day and then points to the car that is leaving Martin’s driveway and tells Warren that it’s time to go to work. As they drive, Martin calls in and tells them that Emily is headed for Ala Moana and who knows, maybe she is going shopping. Nick passes Warren a look that says this is not likely the case. Warren calls Stephanie, who is waiting in her car on a side street, to tell her they’re headed to the shopping center. Stephanie acknowledges and heads there. In the parking lot of Ala Moana, Nick and Warren watch as Emily, a hot Asian cougar type dressed to impress, steps out of her car in a tight skirt showing all legs. Nick tells Warren to call Stephanie so that both of them can meet him on the other side of the mall as he gets out and follows Emily. On the other side Emily exits a store and struts out and waits at the curb where a pimp drives over and picks her up. Nick follows her taking photos with an iPad. Shortly after, Stephanie, packing Warren, drives by and Nick gets into her car. As they drive off, Nick tells her that there’s no rush, as he knows exactly where she’s headed, for she’s a call girl that works out of a condo in another section of Honolulu.
The next day in his office Nick breaks the news to a distraught Martin that his wife has been a prostitute using him as her supplemental income and he leaves knowing that the life he was living was a sham. Warren arrives and tells Nick that Stephanie was trying to get a hold of him. Nick realizes his phone had been on mute and gets back to Warren, who tells him that he managed to contact most of the people in the “Witness Protection” file in trying to see who sent Nick the link. Nick is impressed and jokes with Warren that he may just hire him yet. But the levity is short lived when Warren tells him that every actor he tried to contact has died within the last three months. Nick reacts with incredulity as Warren goes down the list of actors and describes how they died – drug overdose, falling off a building, drowning, stabbed to death, and this information, coming off the heels of knowing Sam Worber was likely purposely killed, has Nick’s head spinning. Nick then asks about Vicki Rhee, the actress who played the witness. Warren realizes that he missed calling her and then also tells Nick that actually they’re “not” all dead as he called and talked to Dave Pressier and told him what happened. Nick tells Warren that Dave wasn’t in the video since he opted out and asks him for the number for Vicki Rhee. Warren reads the LA number to him and Nick makes a call just as Stephanie arrives with coffee, asking if Nick had heard the news. Nick nods and then hears Vicki’s mother on the other end of his call. She passes the call over to detective Connor Mitchell who immediately begins to give Nick the third degree. Stephanie warns Nick to get off the phone but partly because he’s affected by the surreal turn of events he manages to tell Connor about the YouTube link to the video and the fact that he’s discovered that five out of the seven actors are dead and now Vicki is apparently missing. As Nick hands the call off to Warren to provide Connor the video information, Stephanie tells Nick the underlying obvious thought that he doesn’t seem to want to admit; that Vicki Rhee is probably dead, the latest victim of a serial killer bent on killing everyone who was in the video and that Nick is next.
Nick then gets a call from Dave Pressier who can’t believe what has happened. He echoes the theory just espoused by Stephanie and asks if it’s possible that a serial killer is stalking everyone who was in the video. Nick responds that he doesn’t know what to think and they end their call as Warren relays information from his talk with Connor, that authorities will be in touch with him. Stephanie laments to Nick that he’s now a suspect. Just then, Nick gets a text from Martin that he’d like to talk before killing his wife. Nick, Stephanie, and Warren trade looks of concern. Later, Nick and Warren get to Martin’s house and find him hovering over Emily in the back bedroom with a baseball bat in his hands. Nick finally is able to talk Martin out of killing Emily and as he takes the bat from Martin, Emily gets up and runs away. Nick stops Martin from going after her and tells him that one day he’ll look back at this being the luckiest day of his life since he didn’t commit murder. Back in the hotel room, yet another portion of the video is played as the mysterious visitor watches to the side. Later at night while cooking dinner, Nick receives another call from Dave who tells him that this whole series of macabre events has spurred in him an idea. He wants to do a documentary on the killings that are apparently centered on who was in the video. He tells Nick that he’ll be flying in from Miami and should be in Honolulu by the next night and if he could put him up for a few days. Nick reluctantly agrees and as he ends the call senses that someone is prowling around the outside of his house. Nick grabs the bat that he took from Martin and goes to a glass sliding door that has its blinds down and abruptly slides it open. There he finds Martin wide-eyed in surprise at Nick who holds the bat up high. The men later have dinner where they share a little about each other and it’s evident they are becoming friends. In their conversation Nick reveals that he had been a cop before and was eventually kicked off the force when he forced a school psychologist at the point of his gun to confess to sexually abusing high school boys. Martin revisits his sadness over losing Emily. Nick steps away and retrieves a set of self help DVDs someone once gave him when he was going through his hard times and tells Martin that although they didn’t do much good for him maybe it might help Martin, who says he will watch them.
Rough Cut Scene 2: Private eye Nick Navarro (Steve Cedillos) has dinner with his client, Martin Mills (Patrick Jeppeson).
The next morning Nick talks to Stephanie as he drives into the office. She tells him that maybe Martin has become his new best friend and then asks him to pick up some malasadas for the office. As Stephanie hangs up Warren smirks at her. On her asking why he’s smiling, Warren starts to talk about why neither she nor Nick does something about the obvious attraction the two have for each other. Just as Stephanie tells Warren to mind his own business, two mysterious people, a man and a woman, both wearing sunglasses and dressed in black, step into the office. Returning from the malasadas shop, Nick gets into his car while talking to Tom Stucky, the director of the video on the YouTube link. Tom professes his utter shock as to what Nick has told him and they share thoughts about Dave who Tom says is always pursuing some angle for a big deal. After the call, a colleague from the past, Larry Thomasen, a big, stocky detective with the Honolulu Police Department calls out to Nick and sticks his head through the passenger side window and they talk. Beyond the ‘How you doing’ idle chatter they start off with, Nick confides to Larry about the surreal nature of events that has come upon him in the last day. Larry, astounded by the fact that so many people have died in recent months, tells Nick he’ll stop by with forensics expert Cyril Serriano, who says that Nick still owes him $100 for a bet they made on the New England Patriots Super Bowl with the New York Giants. Nick chuckles that Cyril is right. But the bet happened during what became Nick’s last days with the police department and he just plum forgot. Larry smiles and shakes his head and tells Nick they’ll be by later to pick up the envelope and check it for fingerprints.
Nick exits the elevator to his floor and gets a text from Warren about visitors in the office. Entering, he gives Stephanie the malasadas and asks her what is going on? Stephanie tells Nick that the man and the woman are from the FBI, who have come to investigate the killings associated with the video. Warren starts to walk with Nick towards the feds when Nick tells him to go and call Martin to find a room for the incoming Dave as he didn’t want Pressier to be with him for long. Nick goes on into his office and agents Anita Devereaux and Hoyt Howard from Washington D.C. introduce themselves. From this initial beginning Nick doesn’t like their presence, particularly the wise-cracking good ole boy, agent Howard. Nick has to explain what he knows and it is clear that the agents consider him a prime suspect, especially since they are aware that Nick had been in LA just a few days ago on supposed vacation. Hoyt chides Nick over what he thinks is a “piss-ant” movie and immediately starts to divulge his beliefs, that Nick, dissatisfied with the fact that this video he financed went nowhere, somehow arranged the killings of the others. Nick’s interrogation continues through the afternoon and on through the night and he’s forced to call Stephanie, who has returned home for the day, to pick up Dave, who’s arriving at the airport. We dissolve to yet another segment of the video and realize that it has been viewed yet again by Nick, Anita and Hoyt. Nick comments that he doesn’t quite know what they’re looking for when Anita responds that they once interrogated someone who had videotaped his victims as he killed them, but who had never ever watched the video himself, and after he had been forced to watch the video many times he ended up confessing to all of the killings. Hearing this, Nick rolls his eyes and comments that the agents are “warped” and it amazes him that they get paid U.S. tax dollars for what they do.
Rough Cut Scene 3: Private eye Nick Navarro (Steve Cedillos) meets FBI agents Anita Devereaux (Ana Ravedutti) and Hoyt Howard (Ron Riles), who have come to Hawaii from Washington, D.C. to question him about a series of murders happening across the country.
Nick happily excuses himself upon hearing that Larry and Cyril have entered the front office. He goes out to greet them, where he and Cyril banter about the bet he never paid and after a bit of back and forth, Nick gives Cyril his hundred, just as Hoyt and Anita arrive and watch. Larry and Cyril introduce themselves and Anita returns the same and as Nick hands over the envelope to Cyril, Hoyt declares that no evidence leaves the site as this is a federal investigation. Larry argues with him that Nick started the investigation with him so it’s a state matter. Anita interjects that Cyril can indeed take the envelope and they trade business cards. As she and Hoyt return back to Nick’s office, Cyril tells Nick that he’ll see what he finds, and Larry tells Nick to try not to piss off the feds anymore than he has. The men leave and Nick goes back to his office to face Anita and Hoyt again. Across town at the airport, Stephanie picks up Dave and they drive to Nick’s house. Back at the office, Nick is at his wit’s end with the questioning and he explodes on Hoyt and this causes the two to come to near blows. Anita intervenes once again and tells Hoyt to take a breather. While gone she and Nick talk and Anita shares how she came from Brazil to work with the FBI. She had been a reporter following the exploits of a heinous serial killer in Sao Paulo. Over time she became obsessed and her life revolved around finally catching the killer until she burned out. Wanting to get as far away from her country as possible she ended up going to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, on a scholarship to study of all things, journalism; something that Nick, a graduate of Boston College, finds ironic in that Anita, having burned out on journalism eventually continues studying in the field. Anita responds that she has always been addicted to finding out the truth. Nick continues asking about how Anita eventually got with the FBI and she tells him that it was the agency that found her, as they requested her consultation as they hunted for the Phoenix shooter. As Hoyt returns to the office, Anita receives a call on her cell and leaves the room. Hoyt and Nick return to talking about the validity or invalidity of questioning Nick depending on one’s perspective when Anita returns and announces that they found Vicki Rhee’s body, and the body of someone that LAPD suspects may be the killer. A Steven Alcon was found dead at Vicki’s side in the hills of Griffith Park and his travel records show that he was in the cities where the other actors were killed when each murder took place. Nick gets up and walks out of the office, telling Anita and Hoyt to shut the lights and lock the door.
Driving home, Nick calls Stephanie and gets her voice mail. He leaves a message telling her that he trusts Dave got in all right. He then calls Dave and gets his voice mail as well and tells him the same and that he’ll be home soon. As he continues he gets a call from Warren, who tells him that he contacted Martin about getting Dave a room but that Martin had a question. He already had a Dave Pressier check “out” of the hotel today, so when he checks back in would he want to give the guy an upgrade? Nick squints confusion and asks Warren how long had that “Dave Pressier” been staying there? Warren tells him three days. Nick flashes back to when Stephanie told him that the killer could very well already be in Hawaii plotting his next move. Nick tells Warren that he’ll get back to him. No sooner does Nick hang up than he gets another call from Cyril, who tells him that he couldn’t find any fingerprints other than Nick’s and his assistants but that he found that the Florida postmark was a forgery. Cyril asks Nick who does he know locally that would do such a thing and leave an envelope at his door? Nick then realizes the truth and tells Cyril to call Larry and tell him that he knows who the killer is; it’s Dave Pressier and that he’s at Nick’s house and likely has Stephanie. Nick tells Cyril to tell Larry to meet him there and steps on the gas.
As Nick draws his gun and approaches his own front door he hears Dave tell him to come on inside. As Nick enters he sees Stephanie gagged and tied to a chair in the living room and Dave with a gun pointed to her head. Dave forces Nick to hand over his gun and then go to a side table to sign a document that gives him the right to pitch the video. Dave proceeds to produce the “villain monologue” which puts all the pieces together. He had become a failed producer where nothing he pitched ever worked. But then while idly channel surfing one night as he watched television, he came upon an old John Wayne movie called “The Conqueror” where he played – oddly enough – Genghis Khan. The absurd casting caused him to do research on the movie wherein he found that the movie’s history showed that a large percentage of the cast and crew had passed away at a rate far beyond what would have occurred normally. This caused many to deem the production cursed and “The Curse Of The Conqueror” had become Hollywood folklore. But later it was deemed the curse had a logical explanation albeit no less tragic. The far greater than normal death rate was attributed to the fact that the production had shot on location in the deserts of Utah where they had conducted nuclear testing previously and the chemical residue left behind caused half the cast and crew to contract cancer. This spurred a thought in Dave’s mind. What if he could find a way so that every cast member associated with the video would meet with some untimely death so that he could then produce a documentary about “The Curse Of Witness Protection.”
Nick realizes Dave has lost his mind and tells him that he must have been the serial killer. Dave confirms this in part, saying he didn’t kill any of the actors yet, just the “killer of the killer.” As Dave goes to explain, he had found someone to do the killing, and tells Nick it’s amazing how easy it was to find someone to do his bidding. All it took was some money which he obtained through maxing out his credit cards and peddling the exotic espionage of killing someone by traveling from state to state. Dave confirms that this was Steven Alcon. But why kill him Nick then asks. Dave confides that Alcon started developing a conscious and so after Alcon killed Rhee, Dave killed him and set it up to look like a murder suicide. Dave further explains that sending the link to Nick, a private investigator, would guarantee that Nick would eventually connect the dots and set up the serial killer trail, something he had to have the public know “before” he eventually produced the documentary that he believed the public would be eagerly awaiting. Nick tells him that he’s one sick individual. Dave rages and gets ready to shoot Nick but is interrupted by Martin, who surprises him by wielding his bat, and shoots him instead, leaving Martin writhing in pain on the floor from a shoulder wound. Dave, momentarily flustered, recovers and given Martin’s unexpected presence, concocts an additional theory on how things will play itself out. He offers on the spot that Nick will be discovered to be a crazed producer actor on a vengeful killing spree, who is found out by his personal assistant, so he asks that she keep this under wraps. Of course she can’t so he captures her, binds her, tortures her – offering that he’ll provide the personal evidence of such after he kills Nick – when in the process in walks Captain America (Martin), who tries to save her, but in so doing is shot by the maniacal producer, who then finally kills off his suffering assistant and then, in a fit of remorse decides to end it all since he’s reached the final scene of the final act of his miserable life and puts the gun to himself. Nick scoffs at Dave’s latest theory, drawing the ire of Dave who aims his gun. But before Dave can fire he’s cut down by a series of bullets. As he drops to the floor dead we see that it is Larry who has shot him with his gun. Nick unbinds Stephanie and then tends to Martin, who he asks what was he doing there in the first place? Martin tells him that he was returning the DVDs. Nick shakes his head and realizes that the DVDs finally did some good.
We then see the final segment of the video and find that it is coming from Stephanie’s iPad on the morning after where she has been watching it as she recuperates from the previous night’s trauma. Also present are Warren, Larry, and Cyril, along with members of Cyril’s forensics team who are busy conducting their investigation. Larry tells Nick that he’s received a report from the hospital that Martin’s wound was not life threatening and that he will fully recover. Nick thanks him as he surmises upon the serendipity of it all; that in the morning he’s meeting Larry for the first time in 10 years and by the end of the night Larry’s saving his life. Larry says he’s just glad things worked out and leaves to tend to a bevy of reports he’ll have to file. Anita and Hoyt then step up to Nick. Anita confirms that FBI headquarters have confirmed a number of connections between Dave and Steven Alcon, thus confirming that Dave was the true curse behind the video. She leaves as Hoyt comes up to give his final good-bye to Nick. The two still continue a bit of subtle back handed compliments and banter but then part with a genuine basis of understanding. Warren then comes over and tells Nick that he and Stephanie should take some time off, that he can watch the fort while they’re gone. Later, Nick is driving Stephanie home in her car and tells her what Warren suggested and offers that they could take a trip to Nebraska together. Stephanie reacts to Nick’s “elephant in the room” comment and says that neither of them are candidates for the “happily ever after” syndrome. When Stephanie sees that Nick is serious, she comments that he does seem to operate by his instincts. Nick nods and replies that it is what he does. As they drive away, a better future for both of them beckons.
As covered previously, the production, through sheer determination and the overcoming of a myriad of challenges, still managed to come in on-time and on-budget. But as is the case with many productions where principal photography undergoes an exhausting schedule, once the shoot was “in the can,” momentum related to this project, while it had not necessarily waned, undoubtedly took a break. Particularly because the SAG-AFTRA actors involved in the project had agreed to work on a deferred basis, and as such, per union rules, distribution of the eventual completed movie onto paid online movie platforms (free is allowable) could ensue only after sufficient funds were raised to pay all actors, admittedly, post-production work would continually get pushed back, and eventually, even reach a point where it seemed to be postponed indefinitely.
Steven Dillard (Co-Executive Producer) And Christine Tsuzaki (Editor) Combine To Rejuvenate “Curse”
Because of all this, Curse, in fact, continued to be placed on the perpetual back burner, particularly because of YBS/LegacyVision Films continuing to develop new projects. But in the wake of completing the initial shoot of another movie, Shikata Ga Nai, two individuals involved with that project fortuitously appeared on the horizon to once again bring the project to the forefront. Steven Dillard, who had agreed to provide the initial funding for Shikata (and thus serve as its executive producer) in order for the project to film some scenes which would be used for a later crowdfunding campaign, decided to also become a co-executive producer of Curse, supplying funding that was sufficient enough to cover all of the expected payments required for the movie’s SAG-AFTRA actors. This funding was significant as because of his contribution, it basically “guaranteed” that once the movie is completed it will be eligible to be distributed on all movie platforms (free and paid). In addition, Eric decided to film some added scenes involving Steven and Alan Picard. Since all of the phone conversations in Curse involving Steve Cedillos (Nick) featured the other characters appearing only as voices, Eric determined that the story could feature at least a couple of characters being seen. Hence, he asked Steven to replace his own (Eric’s) voice role as that of the Worber Estate attorney, Stanley Porteus, and then also asked Alan Picard to film his role (instead of just using his voice) of the L.A. detective, Connor Mitchell. These two particular scenes were filmed in conjunction with the filming of some re-enactment scenes that were produced for Prof Blood – Basketball’s First Great Coach, which were shot on March 25th, 2022. The other great contribution was provided by Christine Tsuzaki, who, while attending the online L.A. Film School, sought out YBS/LegacyVision Films to become part of its production team for Shikata. At the conclusion of that shoot, after hearing that Curse was essentially in limbo and in need of someone to bring it back on track, Christine offered to edit the movie after Eric reviewed all of the filmed footage and provided a suggested order of cuts, which included previously edited scenes done by Larry Cortez and Mark Ganialongo (all of which appear on this webpage – Larry did rough cut 1 and Mark did rough cuts 2 and 3). In fact, going beyond Eric’s notes, Christine charged into the editing using her own articulate sense for telling a story, and is making the movie her own. With the great contributions of both Steven Dillard and Christine Tsuzaki, The Curse Of Witness Protection, once almost dead in the water, is looking at being finally completed and distributed sometime during 2022.